Movie Review - 'Nebraska' - Chasing Money, And Meaning, In 'Nebraska' A road-trip movie from director Alexander Payne (Sideways) follows a man en route to collect a million-dollar prize that probably never was. NPR's Bob Mondello says the black-and-white film is just the latest achievement from a talented filmmaker. (Recommended)
NPR logo

Chasing Money, And Meaning, In 'Nebraska'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/244571741/245037270" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Chasing Money, And Meaning, In 'Nebraska'

Review

Movie Reviews

Chasing Money, And Meaning, In 'Nebraska'

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/244571741/245037270" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

And I'm Audie Cornish.

Filmmaker Alexander Payne has quite a track record: six movies, five Oscar nominations and two gold Oscar statues for "Sideways" and "The Descendants." His new road trip movie "Nebraska" opens today. It's a comedy filmed in black and white. And critic Bob Mondello says it may well make him a nominee again.

BOB MONDELLO, BYLINE: Woody Grant has hair that would be white even if it weren't being filmed in black and white. Also, a cranky disposition and a stubbornness that just won't quit. We first see Woody being stopped by a highway patrolman as he's walking down the shoulder of an interstate near Billings, Montana. When his son, David, picks him up at the police station, it turns out Woody was on an 850-mile stroll.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: David is skeptical, so Woody reads the letter he got.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: David points out gently that the letter is an ad for magazine subscriptions. But he's no sooner got the old man back to his house then he gets a call from his mom. Woody has hit the road again.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: Well, that's logical.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: Again, logical.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: Not a lot, as it happens. Woody may be slipping mentally, but he's still sharp in flashes as played by Bruce Dern in a performance you'll be hearing about at awards time. He also has a plain-spoken, scene-stealing wife played by June Squibb, who you might call a decent incentive for getting out of town.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: The son you'd expect these two to produce - put-upon David, played with wary grace by Will Forte - decides a bit of bonding with the father he doesn't really know couldn't hurt. So they hop in his car and are soon passing through the town where Woody grew up, a place where the people - shot in black and white, remember - look as weathered as the buildings and where David discovers, despite much backslapping, that even friends...

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: ...can be harsh.

(SOUNDBITE OF MOVIE, "NEBRASKA")

MONDELLO: Director Alexander Payne's decision to shoot in black and white means Nebraska's wind-swept landscapes have a "Last Picture Show"-meets-"Grapes Of Wrath" feel, also that the films faces seems as iconic as Mount Rushmore, which Woody dismisses when they drive by it as looking unfinished.

The filmmaker has crammed Nebraska with orneriness and humor, greed, Americana and performance is so natural they seem like found objects, especially Bruce Dern's, which caps a career of character parts with a delicately nuanced character. I'm guessing that the name he's been given in the film wasn't accidental.

Woody Grant could have stepped straight out of Grant Wood's painting "American Gothic." His story, too. Crusty old coot from a dying farm town looking for meaning at the end of a life that may not have had one.

I'm Bob Mondello.

Copyright © 2013 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.